There are a few key things to keep in mind when you’re deciding whether to go to Au Cheval, the NYC location of a pretty famous restaurant in Chicago. One, you’re going to wait a long time for a table. Two, you’ll probably be eating burgers and fries. And three, no matter what you order, you’ll leave wanting to sweat it all out and simultaneously be as inactive as possible. But as long as you know what you’re in for, this is an excellent place to eat too much meat and drink too much whiskey, without spending too much money.
Ask someone from Chicago the best things about their city, and after pointing out the street where the parade took place in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and then repeating Michael Jordan six times, they’ll probably bring up the burger at Au Cheval. So New Yorkers are understandably excited that they can experience a version of it by taking the Q train to Canal rather than a Spirit flight to O’Hare. In theory, you can make a reservation at this Tribeca spot, but most of the seating is reserved for walk-ins, and there are almost always waits. Even at lunch, the huge, converted warehouse space often gets packed, and people linger by the coffee bar in the corner, waiting for a text saying their table is ready. At dinner, when the waits can be upwards of three hours, people kill time drinking at the bar downstairs, checking for texts like middle schoolers waiting for their crush to respond about mini golf versus laser tag.
Part of what makes Au Cheval unique is that while the atmosphere is impressive enough to entertain clients or out-of-town friends, the menu is just made up of decadent versions of standard diner dishes, with most things priced under $20, and the burger at center stage. In keeping with the generally excessive nature of this place, the “single” burger has two patties, and the double has three. Even if you just finished a marathon or got broken up with, the double is too much, but the single can hold its own with the best burgers in the city. The patties are seared on the outside but still juicy inside, and they’re topped with perfect portions of melted cheese, mayo, and pickles. You don’t need to add an egg, but you should definitely go for the optional slabs of bacon, which are thick, peppery, and held in place nicely by the brioche bun.
One burger is enough to ensure that you’ll look at your snack cabinet later like your dog looks at you when you kick him out of bed to make room for someone else, so it’s a good idea to share, because there are other things you’ll want to try as well. There’s bone-in fried chicken drenched in a sweet General Tso’s-style sauce, and a chopped salad that’s delicious, even if it is laughable to call it a salad considering it’s covered with bacon, egg, aged cheddar, and ranch. You also can’t go wrong with the fries, especially topped with a runny fried egg. But if you only get one thing here besides the burger, it should be the potato hash. The crispy mound of potatoes is covered with duck heart gravy so rich that a desperate prospector could mine it for iron, and as you might expect, it comes with a fried egg on top as well.
Topping various dishes with eggs is just one example of how Au Cheval never misses an opportunity to turn up the dial on indulgence, and while it works most of the time, it can also feel like they’re trying too hard to say “f*ck you” to anyone who wears a stethoscope. The 32-ounce pork porterhouse will get oohs, ahhs, and camera flashes, but it’s so comically thick that the meat ends up being dry. It comes with foie gras and a thick pool of jus, but they mostly just serve as heavy distractions. There’s also a fried bologna sandwich (covered in cheese and mayo) that you might be tempted to order. We appreciate a more socially acceptable venue to eat bologna than standing by the fridge at 2am, but after a couple enjoyable bites to start, the salt and fat bomb detonates, and the flavors of the housemade bologna are pretty much lost.
If you leave Au Cheval disappointed because the food wasn’t uniformly great, it’s a sign you didn’t go in with the right expectations. You’re here for the kind of heavy, not-even-trying-to-be-healthy food you usually crave when you’ve been drinking, and even though you’ll probably have to wait to eat it, you can spend that time letting your BAC and excitement for double cheeseburgers rise in unison. Sure, by the end of dinner you probably won’t be interested in doing anything remotely active (including staying awake), but you won’t be complaining, either.
Au Cheval arrived in New York City, and like the Roman army planting its flag in a conquered city, it planted its burger in Tribeca. The “single” has two crispy medium-rare patties, gooey American cheese, and a soft brioche bun. Top it with thick-cut, peppery bacon, and we’re not sure anyone is knocking that flag down.
Fried Bologna Sandwich
We’d order this again if we were sharing with a few people - the housemade bologna is a lot better than any packaged version we’ve ever had - but the mayo, fat, and salt become too much after a few bites.
There’s no way to convince yourself that Au Cheval is anything other than intensely unhealthy. For example, this is one of only two green things on the menu, but it comes topped with lots of bacon, aged cheddar, ranch, and, of course, egg. It’s more delicious than most salads, but that’s because it’s not really a salad.
Potato Hash With Duck Heart Gravy
This costs less than $15, it’s a ton of food, and besides the burger, it’s the best thing here. The crispy potatoes are topped with a meaty, peppery duck heart gravy, and while you can barely taste the fried egg with so much else going on, nobody ever complained about a fried egg on anything.
Roasted Marrow Bones
This involves three big bones served with soft bread that tastes like French toast, plus beef cheek marmalade that tastes kind of like caramelized onions. It’s pretty good, but assuming you have a limited capacity for meat and meat byproducts, you should focus your attention elsewhere.
Honey Fried Chicken
The huge legs, wings, and breast are coated in a sweet, honey-based sauce, and the meat is fried perfectly, with juicy meat and crispy breading. You want this.
They only carry a couple of these on any given night, which is a good thing, because it’s the only real miss on the menu. The 32-ounce pork porterhouse is so big that it’s surprising they don’t offer to put your picture on the wall if you finish it. The meat is dry, and even though there’s a ton of thick jus and seared foie gras to distract from that, this is still disappointing, especially because at $50 it’s by far the most expensive dish here.